Monthly Archives: May 2019

I tried to escape my privilege with low-wage work. Instead, I came face to face with it.

So I inclined away from the kind of internships or resume-building white-collar gigs that my peers were pursuing the summer after graduation.


I wanted something physical, something working class. This wasn’t based on an intellectual desire to gain a deeper understanding of class theory or race relations — just a 17-year-old’s urge to broaden my experience beyond my $30,000-a-year high school days.

I’d never had a job, but I knew where I wanted to find one. I’d spent the first few years of my life in Adams Morgan, a funky, diverse neighborhood and, in my eyes, the antithesis of Friendship Heights, the leafy, gleaming enclave my family had moved to. A few weeks before graduation, I spent a Saturday morning pacing 18th Street, stopping at every establishment with a “help wanted” sign, gravitating toward the places that fulfilled my vision of the city’s seedy underbelly: the late-night spots, the greasy pizza joints, the hookah bars.

I’m hardly the first privileged young man to go looking for grit. Others, from George Orwell to Chris McCandless, also have chafed against the neatness of their upbringings and tried to step outside their comfort zones. They found this to be the only tonic for their increasing unease with and burgeoning cynicism toward their backgrounds.

Nor, I’m sure, was I the first to learn that my mission was doomed to fail. No matter how blue-collar my surroundings, I’ll always carry the marked advantages of my educated, middle-class upbringing. Despite my total lack of relevant work experience, I leapfrogged straight toward management.

I walked into Amsterdam Falafelshop, a place I loved for the same reasons as everyone else: It had tasty, cheap food and a neighborhood vibe. I told the guy behind the counter that I had seen the “help wanted” sign and was interested. He looked me up and down and told me they needed somebody for the night shift. The night shift was crazy, he said. That was precisely what I was looking for, so I told him that I thought I could handle it — I had experience with crazy from running high school bake sales.

I got the job and soon found myself at the restaurant at 2 o’clock most mornings. By this time, fries were usually scattered across the hardwood floors. Hummus and baba ganoush were splattered on the tables and the counter. A ragged line of mostly young, mostly white and entirely wasted souls stood before me and extended out the door. I was behind the counter, hot, sweating, crying “Small wheat!” as I punched the buttons on the register. “Two white combos! One small wheat, one small white, large fries!” And so on, for hours.

Behind the scenes, my co-workers and I created our own drama.

There was Catalino, a short, middle-aged, mustached Honduran who had been working there maybe four years, the longest of all of us. He was the falafel master, and he stood for hours hunched over his tools as he scooped, shaped and fried the falafel balls.

There was Francis, close to my age and born and raised in Ecuador. He was tall and had very straight black hair. He used to take classes at the University of the District of Columbia.

There was Alex, also Honduran, and so gangly we called him Flaco. He was a ladies man and often leaned jauntily over the counter to flirt with pretty customers, a hand-rolled cigarette tucked behind his ear.

And there was David — that’s the Spanish “dah-veed” — a muscly man with a crucifix dangling around his neck and an affected, scornful laugh. His English was the best, after mine, and he sometimes filled in for me at the register.

My albeit limited Spanish had helped me get the job, but it wasn’t hard to get by in English, either. I had been hired to replace the night-shift manager, whose departure left a power vacuum. My co-workers vied for dominance in their different kitchen-duty niches, but I had an easy advantage when it came to the desirable position of cashier: I spoke English. With no work experience and without actually depending on the job as a source of income, I had inadvertently jumped the managerial line in front of my much more experienced, Spanish-speaking immigrant co-workers. And it was me, the white kid with the prep-school background, who was trusted with the sensitive tasks of closing the register, taking the cash and receipts to the basement, and filling out paperwork. (Contacted by an editor at The Washington Post, Amsterdam Falafelshop co-owner Arianne Bennett said the author was selected to run the register not because he speaks English but because of his entertaining personality. Bennett says all employees are trained to work the register; the most talkative and witty are tasked with running it.)

I never felt any bitterness from the other guys, but a distance did develop after the initial awkwardness of being the new kid in the kitchen. My cultural affinity with our customers had the flip side of alienating me from my co-workers, who laughed at my awkward attempts to speak Spanish. Along with the fun and camaraderie of work in a kitchen, I was also exposed to views that challenged the safe, touchy-feely beliefs I’d absorbed in my high school. I remember one argument I had with David as we were mopping and sweeping up at around 4 a.m., pop salsa on the sound system. We were talking about gay sex.

“I just don’t get how they could do that,” David said. His crucifix dangled from his neck as he mopped.

For one of the first times in my life, I was confronted with someone whose cultural perspective had led him to completely different conclusions.

“You don’t have to,” I remember replying. “They wouldn’t want to do it with you, anyway.”

I’d often use this kind of banter to stand by my beliefs without defending them outright. I had to become flexible in how I reacted to views among my new friends that clashed with those I shared with my old friends.

My co-workers did include me in their behind-the-counter pastimes, like throwing knives into cutting boards and sneakily sticking pieces of tape to each other butts, and for my 18th birthday, I got a surprise. Despite his limited English, Catalino took the register for a few minutes while Alex and Francis led me into the basement, to the long, narrow freezers where we kept the French fries in 20-pound brown paper bags. On one of these freezers, already arranged, were salt, limes, three empty ketchup to-go containers and a bottle of tequila. I’m proud to say I held my own.

As far as I know, we were all paid the same wage, and by no means was the register a cushy position. But I served as the cultural bridge between my Hispanic co-workers and our downtown customers, as well as the restaurant’s owners. My bosses exploited the background I had sought to rebel against by making me the perfect link; thus my effort to see how the other half lived resulted in further entrenching the differences between us. This was especially evident when my friends or students from my high school, who treated the job as more of a novelty than an actual occupation. When I told them where I was working, the response was invariably something along the lines of, “Wow, that’s so cool!” When they came to visit me, though, they sometimes grew irritated that I couldn’t chat with them longer than the time it took to wipe down their table.

This was five years ago. I graduated from college in December with a major in geography. At age 23, I’m a freelance writer and illustrator in my college town. I’ve done other low-wage work in the past five years, but my trajectory has brought me toward the more skilled and specialized labor expected within my class. When I visit my mom in D.C., I usually stop at the falafel shop, where the smells and the music remain unchanged from the summer of 2010. None of the people I worked with are there anymore, although I know from Facebook that Francis recently earned a degree in kinetic science and is looking for a job as a sports trainer. I don’t know where Catalino, Alex and David are now.

The last time I visited, I did a double take when I entered the store. Behind the register stood another kid from my small private high school. He had been a few years behind me, and we had both been on the wrestling team, though my defining memory of him was his performance as Lucky in the school production of “Waiting for Godot.” As I spoke to him, learning that he, too, was taking a gap year before what I don’t doubt will be a college degree and a successful future, an African American man fried my fries and served up my sandwich.

Phillips is a freelance writer and illustrator living in Madison, Wis.

Focus turns to fans in deadly Washington subway incident

After being briefed behind closed doors by the acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, members of the Washington-area congressional delegation emerged from the meeting to publicly share a few new details about the Jan.


12 incident, in which one passenger died and scores of others were sickened by smoke.

“Stepping onto a train car shouldn’t require a leap of faith about your safety,” said Rep. John Delaney, D-Md. “What happened on the Yellow Line earlier this month was completely unacceptable, and we cannot lose sight of that.”

As for ventilation problems, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., said the group was told that after the six-car train encountered smoke in the tunnel and abruptly stopped just south of the L’Enfant Plaza station, the train’s air-intake system was not turned off, meaning it drew smoke into the cars.

At the time, riders were gasping for air. One of them, Carol Glover, 61, of Alexandria, Virginia, died of smoke inhalation, according to an autopsy.

“We know the ventilation system sucked smoke into the train,” Beyer told reporters after he and other lawmakers were briefed by the NTSB’s Christopher Hart. But Hart, also addressing the news media, contradicted Beyer and Mikulski, saying investigators have not determined whether the air-intake system drew smoke into the cars.

“We are doing further investigation,” he said. “That is one of the things we’re looking at. Was it bringing smoke in? We don’t know that yet.”

Transit experts interviewed last week by The Washington Post also voiced concerns about whether tunnel fans near the L’Enfant Plaza station worked properly during the incident, and one Metro official told The Post that the agency’s maintenance records on the fans are not current.

Depending on the situation, Metro configures a series of large tunnel fans in various ways to remove smoke from tunnels in the proper direction. Hart said investigators are still looking into how the tunnel fans functioned on the afternoon of the fatal incident.

“We have tested the ventilation system and noted some anomalies,” Hart said. “I don’t have details as to what that anomaly is.”

During a D.C. Council hearing Tuesday on the incident, the outgoing Metro board chairman, Tom Downs, appeared to criticize the Post’s report on the tunnel fans, saying: “The [insinuation] that the fans weren’t working was dead wrong. The fans don’t need fixing, and that’s after the NTSB verified the status of the fans themselves. That’s the kind of thing that we can’t have, before you jump to a conclusion. That is actually part of the problem. That’s as far as I can go.”

After the Capitol Hill briefing Wednesday, Mikulski said: “The 13 of us in the room were all trying to get answers about what happened that horrific day. We left the meeting with lots of answers.”

But many of the lawmakers said there were still numerous questions that remained unanswered, including whether there are broader communication problems in the subway system, why it took so long for first responders to reach victims, and why the train in the tunnel was unable to be moved.

Lawmakers said D.C. firefighters and Metro personnel were using radios that day that had different encryption codes. Both agencies change the codes periodically. The fire department apparently had changed its code, but for some reason the two systems had not yet been synced.

The fatal incident Jan. 12 occurred in a tunnel just south of L’Enfant Plaza station. About 3:15 p.m. that day, officials have said, a six-car Yellow Line train, which had just left the station, abruptly stopped after encountering heavy smoke.

While the passengers waited at least 35 minutes for help to arrive, smoke filled the cars, causing scores of riders to choke and become sick.

Before Hart agreed to brief the congressional delegation, there had been a clamor for more information about the incident from Capitol Hill, from Washington Mayor Muriel E. Bowser , from the D.C. Council and from the news media.

Investigators have said the smoke was generated by an electrical malfunction 1,100 feet in front of the train involving cables that carried high-voltage power to the third rail. In an occurrence called “electrical arcing,” power escaped from those cables, causing heat, melting and smoke, according to the NTSB, which on Friday issued a short, sparsely detailed preliminary report of its investigation.

“I think we got some answers, but I think a lot of questions remain,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said after the briefing.

Among the unanswered questions is whether the arcing occurred because the cables had deteriorated as a result of not being properly maintained by Metro. “We know there was arcing,” Hart said Wednesday. “We don’t know why there was arcing.” Hart said NTSB would look to determine whether it was caused by aging equipment that needed repair.

Questions also remain about technical problems involving communications equipment used by first responders in the tunnel and about Metro’s initial call to the D.C. fire department to report the smoke. Metro reported “heavy smoke at our L’Enfant Plaza Metrorail station” but did not initially convey that passengers were aboard a train stuck in the tunnel, according to a transcript of the 911 call.

Earlier Wednesday, Bowser responded to comments by Downs, who told the D.C. Council that some publicly disseminated information about the incident — including the timeline of events — “is not accurate as it stands right now.”

Bowser said: “We’re committed to a top-down review. We’ve released the first phase, and we’ll release the [next] phase later in the week.”

Unlike Metro, which has declined to comment on specifics of what went wrong in the tunnel, Bowser’s office on Saturday issued a preliminary report on the incident.

The report said that D.C. firefighters in the tunnel could not clearly communicate by radio with commanders aboveground because signal-boosting equipment was not working properly. The equipment is maintained by Metro, and fire officials had alerted the transit agency to the problem in a Jan. 8 email, four days before the emergency, the report said.

Why Metro officials apparently did not act on the email warning is unclear. As a result, with radio transmissions failing, firefighters in the tunnel had to resort to using cellphones and a system of personally relaying information to the outside.

At the council hearing Tuesday, members grilled Downs on several issues related to the crisis, including the reported communications problems, Metro’s protocols for cooperating with first responders during such situations and whether train passengers can self-evacuate during emergencies.

Downs offered few answers, instead echoing what Metro officials have been saying since the calamity occurred 10 days ago: that because the incident is under investigation by the NTSB, federal regulations bar the transit agency from commenting publicly.

That Jan. 8 warning to Metro — which came after firefighters did a routine check of tunnel radio equipment — was not the first time in recent months that the transit agency had been alerted to communications problems in the subway.

In an Oct. 20 letter to Metro, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) said that there appeared to be a drop-off in the ability to make 911 calls in underground stations, on platforms and aboard trains in tunnels.

The letter, sent by a COG committee that monitors 911 operations regionally, said the committee “was made aware of the possible degradation of cell phone/smart phone access by Metro patrons” at underground sites. The letter said COG was “understandably concerned if there is a degradation of 9-1-1 access in Metro Rail and would appreciate being provided a current status report” about 911 access.

COG offered to do a systemwide test for Metro on whether 911 calls could be made from the subway using four service providers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

Although Metro promptly replied, saying the agency would like to take up the testing offer, COG spokeswoman Jeanne Saddler said, the transit agency has yet to make arrangements with council of governments for such testing.

Washington Post staff writers Ashley Halsey III, Mary Pat Flaherty and Aaron C. Davis contributed to this report.

Video: The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday the smoke in the Metro tunnel near L’Enfant Plaza was caused by electrical arcing. (Jason Aldag / The Washington Post)



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What Hollywood can learn from the Korean culture wars

“The Interview” was only ever supposed to be a silly James Franco-Seth Rogen comedy about a pair of American journalists who are asked to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.


But the movie became the subject of an international incident after hackers who had targeted Sony Pictures threatened violence against theaters who screened it and the North Korean regime used the film as an opportunity to posture about American arrogance.

In the weeks that followed, it’s become conventional wisdom that Sony Pictures overreacted in pulling the movie from theaters. But “The Interview” incident actually has a lot to teach the American pop culture industry about how to respond to totalitarian regimes, and how to stay ahead of the pack in a much more competitive global cultural marketplace.

If South Korea’s role as a pop culture phenomenon grew in part out of competition with North Korea after the countries were partitioned after World War II, the country’s approach to mass media also was the result of a strategic search for an inexpensive export. Discussing the South Korean government’s significant investments in the country’s culture industries in “The Birth of Korean Cool,” her memoir and cultural history, Euny Hong suggests that her country has had to be strategic in its ambitions and realistic about the quality of some of its cultural exports, even as events like the Busan International Film Festival have put South Korean movies in contention with the best of world cinema.

Rather than trying to break into saturated markets like the United States, “It’s about getting the crucial but still dormant third-world market hooked on Korean pop culture — Eastern Europe, the Arab nations, and soon, Africa,” she argues. “Many K-pop bands release songs in Chinese or Japanese, like Girls’ Generation’s ‘Paparazzi’ (nothing to do with Lady Gaga), recorded in Japanese. TVXQ!’s entire marketing strategy is based on appealing to Japan. Boy band Super Junior has a Chinese subunit, called Super Junior M, featuring two Chinese members. Many bands … have Korean-Americans so that the English sounds authentic.”

I’ve seen the impact of this hallyu, or Korean Wave, myself: On a 2013 trip to Burma, rural rice farmers in the Irrawaddy Delta told me and my father that they hoped to purchase solar units large enough to power televisions that could receive South Korean soap operas.

The South Korean cultural boom is in part the product of government interventions less eccentric but far more comprehensive than Kim Jong Il’s kidnapping scheme. Hong points to the South Korean government’s decision to prop up the K-pop industry with more than $90 million in subsidies and investments and heavy regulation of karaoke parlors to make sure operators were licensing the music and lyrics they used. There is a government investment fund targeted just at pop culture, and laws that promote independent domestic television studios.

The United States isn’t likely to focus this intensely on promoting the culture industry (though we have plenty of tax credit programs of our own) as vigorously as South Korea has and it doesn’t need to. And we shouldn’t respond to North Korea’s posturing by adding that country to the list of those to whom we’re terrified to give offense. But America’s inadvertent entry into the Korean culture wars ought to have exposed us to some useful new ideas.

While we’ve been taking international audiences for granted, countries like South Korea are explicitly and aggressively targeting what they see as underserved markets. Much of the discussion of diversity in American popular culture focuses on domestic audiences, and for good reason. American film dramatically under-represents black and Latino people, despite the fact that Latinos in particular buy the highest per-capita number of movie tickets. The success of Shonda Rhimes’ series and breakout hits like “Empire” and “Black-ish” show that television is adapting a bit faster, responding to the tremendous power viewers of color have to drive live TV viewing.

These moderate successes suggest ways the American pop culture industry could simultaneously address its problems at home and abroad with projects that put African, African-American and Latino actors front and center. A forthcoming adaptation of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel “Americanah,” starring Mexican-Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o and British actor David Oyelowo, is exactly the sort of project that has the potential to serve many different potential audiences, both domestically and internationally, all at once.

And while it’s a more modest experiment in cultural adaptation than multi-lingual K-pop groups, we’ve seen a small boom in television shows that make regular use of Spanish-language dialogue, including FX drama “The Bridge” and the CW’s marvelous telenovela adaptation “Jane the Virgin.” Series like these both reflect changes in American demographics and language and provide potential hooks for audiences in other countries. It’s one thing to watch a story about immigrants from your own country in the United States, and another entirely to hear that story told in your own language.

And part of thinking more globally about your audience involves thinking about other customs and norms — and about how to navigate the restrictions autocratic governments place on cultural imports. In that sense, “The Interview” might have taught us the wrong lessons. Despite hiccups and embarrassments, “The Interview” ultimately found both streaming and theatrical distribution. That might embolden American filmmakers and television creators to keep lazily teeing up on North Korea, where their work was never going to be screened in the first place.

Plenty of other governments will behave foolishly, and there will always be tensions between what American audiences take for granted and pop culture tropes that make audiences in other countries deeply uncomfortable. If America’s culture industries fancy themselves in the business of exporting U.S. values and ideals, though, they’ll have to think about how to make those messages play in very different environments.

And other, more open governments will be able to do something that North Korea can’t: make American artists and culture companies change their behavior to get access to burgeoning audiences. China, for instance, just instituted a new rule that requires TV shows that want to stream in Chinese markets to submit entire seasons for review and approval by the country’s censors. The desire to appease that body is one of the reasons movies so often cast North Koreans as villains already.

It’s no great sacrifice to stage a rollicking “Transformers” fight in Shanghai to win that franchise entrance to the large and growing Chinese movie market. But moves like this are unlikely to stave off more serious challenges to American artistic integrity, especially as countries like China try to gear up to export their own pop culture. Treating the international market as an opportunity to be creative is one thing. Shrinking down what American pop culture is to try to appease every dictatorial or protectionist government that might try to bar it is quite another.

The botched release of “The Interview” might have seemed like an annoyance. But it should have been an unmistakable warning sign. In both foreign policy and mass culture, America is no longer the sole great power in a uni-polar world. And if we want our pop culture to remain a dominant cultural export and a viable means of promoting our values, we’d be wise to look to conflicts like the Korean culture war to figure out how to fight for our own continued influence.

Rosenberg writes The Post’s Act Four blog, at 韩国半永久纹眉,washingtonpost韩国半永久纹眉会所,/news/act-four/

FBI agent accused of stealing heroin had been addicted to painkillers

Concern turned to desperation the night of Sept.


29, when the 33-year-old didn’t return home after work. His father, then an assistant police chief in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, called his son’s friends and colleagues, launching a frantic, hours-long search across the District that ended under a crane in a dusty construction lot across from the Navy Yard.

There, two FBI agents found Lowry standing next to his black, government-issued Chevrolet Impala, and he was incoherent. Afraid he was contemplating suicide, the agents took Lowry’s sidearm from the holster and his M4 rifle from the trunk. They took him to another agent’s apartment and left the Chevy in the lot overnight.

Hours later, the case moved from a private struggle with addiction to an embarrassment for the FBI when, court documents say, agents found stolen drug evidence in Lowry’s car.

In the weeks that followed, criminal cases against 28 defendants, some of whom had pleaded guilty and been sent to prison, were dismissed after authorities deemed them tainted by Lowry’s alleged misconduct. Procedures at the Washington Field Office that allowed Lowry to repeatedly check drugs out of an evidence vault, and keep the packages for months without notice, were scrutinized, and changes were made.

Lowry was suspended. He has not been charged with a crime, although an investigation is continuing.

Lowry’s path to addiction, and the hours in which his alleged thefts were revealed, are detailed in a statement from his attorney and in more than 600 pages of documents obtained by The Washington Post, including internal FBI memos and transcripts of interviews with agents.

The documents tell the story of a struggling FBI agent who graduated with honors from the University of Maryland and was a team leader of his class at the FBI academy but who fell victim to some of the same addictions he had sworn to eradicate through law enforcement. His attorney says that, like many other heroin users his client encountered over his career, Lowry’s drug use began with a dependence on prescription painkillers.

It wasn’t until the day after the agents found Lowry in the lot at Seventh and L streets in Southeast that one of them discovered a bag of heroin under a seat of the dirty car.

Then the FBI agent found another bag. And another. And another.

“It’s way worse than we could have imagined,” that agent later told investigators.

The first time Lowry used heroin was the summer or fall of 2013 while on an investigation the FBI dubbed Midnight Hustle. He told investigators that he took a small amount of the drug obtained in an undercover buy.

Lowry became addicted to pain medication in 2012, the documents state; the reason was not divulged. His attorney, Robert Bonsib, would say only that Lowry suffered from a “severe medical condition.” His primary doctor left private practice for a research facility, and a new doctor prescribed “power pain medications” that Bonsib said alleviated symptoms but failed to address the underlying issues.

He said that his client became addicted to the drugs and that when that doctor suddenly disappeared, Lowry tried to stop “cold turkey,” but “the addiction was overpowering and he began to self-medicate himself by removing small quantities of heroin from evidence seized during the course of certain narcotic investigations.”

An FBI memo says Lowry told investigators that he snorted the heroin at his home, up to about half a gram at a time. He used rolled-up paper as a straw.

After being discovered, Bonsib said, Lowry “acknowledged his addiction, sought treatment and agreed to fully disclose to prosecutors and the FBI investigators the specifics of his conduct. . . . He is devastated by the impact his conduct has had on the investigations in which he was involved and is committed to doing whatever he can to bring this investigation to a prompt and fair conclusion.”

Lowry’s wife and his father, speaking through Bonsib, declined interview requests. Citing the ongoing investigation, authorities at the FBI’s Washington Field Office also declined to comment for this article.

Lowry, who was assigned to a task force focused on crime along the District of Columbia-Maryland border, managed to siphon drugs from evidence packages for about a year, forging the signatures of bosses and co-workers and taking advantage of rules that allowed a single agent to sign out drugs, according to FBI memos and court documents.

The last week of September was particularly stressful for Lowry, according to the FBI documents. He was late for several firearms training sessions, a prosecutor was pressing him to revise a wiretap warrant and he was worried that his boss had noticed a change in his behavior. He was frequently absent from the office, telling other agents that he hated desk work.

He, his wife of three years and their newborn were living at his father’s home in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, while their house was being built. Around that time, his wife, a pharmaceuticals company representative, went to a conference, and Lowry was responsible for child care. Lowry told the FBI that on Sept. 28, his wife walked out of his father’s house, texting him that he was not a good husband or father.

The next day, Lowry checked out heroin from the FBI evidence room. He drove out of downtown, through the Third Street Tunnel, and exited near the Navy Yard. He said he pulled over because he was tired; he also had run out of gas.

When he didn’t arrive home, Lowry’s father, William Lowry, called one of his son’s friends, a fellow agent. The agent said William Lowry described his son’s dependency on prescription drugs — with no mention of heroin — and the text his son received from his wife.

Lowry’s father told the agent, “You know, over the years, no matter what was going on in his life, you know, when I reached out to my son, he’d text me back.” This night, he received no response.

The agent, along with others who worried that Lowry might harm himself, had been trying, unsuccessfully, to call Lowry on his cellphone. Another colleague checked bars that Lowry frequented. About 8 p.m., the agent called again, and this time Lowry answered. He said his car had broken down and he was at a construction site.

“And I’m like, ‘We’re coming to get you,’ ” the agent said he replied.

The two stayed on the phone until the agent pulled into the lot. Other agents arrived, as did Lowry’s father. They took his guns and said that Lowry kept returning to the car, rummaging around inside. “He had a complete and total breakdown,” one agent said in a memo.

They decided to take Lowry to a colleague’s apartment in Annapolis, Maryland.

The next morning, the agents went to retrieve the Chevy. They borrowed a gas can and put fuel in the empty tank.

Later, one of the agents began to throw out the trash from the car. That, the agent said, was when he found the first bag of heroin under the seat.

He called the agent who was with Lowry and told him about the drugs. That agent said he told Lowry: “Look, we know what was in the car. And it’s obviously a problem. And you’re going to go to rehab. . . . And I’m going to take you there, okay? Right now.”

The agent said Lowry answered, “Okay, that’s fine.”

Lowry’s father — who spent 27 years on the Prince George’s County police force before joining Anne Arundel’s — told the FBI that his son started a drug rehabilitation program Oct. 2, three days after the Navy Yard incident.

His father said the younger Lowry concentrated on work and family and dabbled in real estate. He recently sold a house he owned in the District, rents another out in Anne Arundel and has some holdings in other states. His FBI code name was “Chewie,” and along with the drugs and guns in his car, evidence technicians found a T-shirt adorned with a picture of Chewbacca from “Star Wars.”

The agents who helped Lowry repeatedly told investigators that they were helping a friend through a personal crisis and never thought it involved stolen drugs. “We think we have an agent who, you know, had the wheels come off,” one said during his interview. “He’s drunk, he’s having marital problems, he’s got a 7-month-old at home. We want to help, you know, get him through it.”

Lowry’s attorney said his client wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps “since he was a little boy.” At the FBI academy, he had received the director’s leadership award. He completed a master’s program in finance. He led a covert surveillance group and a carjacking task force and worked in the counterintelligence squad. He mentored students in troubled D.C. neighborhoods.

But on Sept. 29, in the Navy Yard lot, Lowry stood with his worried co-workers and his father, his life falling apart.

An agent recalled, “I remember him giving a hug to his father.”

Five myths about summer blockbusters



“Jaws” and “Star Wars” were the first.

When it comes to pinning the blame for our endless cinematic summer, critics and historians are agreed on the fall guys: Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” (1975) and George Lucas’ “Star Wars,” released two years later.

In fact, the blockbuster mentality — which is to say, B-movies getting the A-list treatment, being heavily marketed, opening wide and racking up massive profits — took hold of the studios a few years earlier, with “Love Story” (1970), “The Godfather” (1972) and “The Exorcist” (1973) all breaking box-office records. “Godfather” producer Robert Evans declared that “the making of blockbusters is the newest art form of the 20th century.”

Nor was “Jaws” the first film to open “wide,” as is frequently claimed. In 1971, “Billy Jack” opened in 1,200 cinemas, far exceededing the 465 of “Jaws,” which was reduced from a planned 900 by Universal’s Lew Wasserman so that demand for Spielberg’s film exceeded supply. “Star Wars,” meanwhile, opened in just 43 cinemas — in today’s terms, it was the “sleeper” hit of 1977. They were, however, the first movies to break $100 million, and they did so by pioneering the modern, visceral movie-as-thrill-ride, racking up repeat viewings in a way “The Godfather” never did, as people went back for more.

2. Size matters.

So read the posters for “Godzilla” (1998), one of the biggest busts of the ’90s. Today, superheroes do battle with supervillains, decimating our megacities and turning skyscrapers to tinder in their efforts to save the universe (again). In the new “Jurassic World,” the T. rex makes way for the bigger, bulkier Indominus rex, because, as one character says, “No one’s impressed by a dinosaur anymore.” An unpromising sentiment in a movie about dinosaurs.

But the break-out star of the first “Jurassic Park” was not the T. rex but the much smaller velociraptor — smart, fast and lethal. The first generation of blockbusters was made up of such David and Goliath narratives, setting speed and cunning against size, with speed and cunning winning. Spielberg had the option of casting Charlton Heston, the biggest disaster-movie star of the day, in “Jaws,” but went instead for Richard Dreyfuss as his nerdy ichthyologist. He cast Roy Scheider as the hydrophobic police chief, telling him, “I don’t want to ever feel you could kill that shark.” He filled “Jaws” with physical cowards. “Star Wars,” too, was a hymn to the little guy. “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” Princess Leiaasksa disguised Luke, who uses the Empire’s size against it, running X-wings down the gulleys of the Death Star.

The rebels vs. the Death Star, Marty McFly vs. Biff, the T-1000 vs. Schwarzenegger’s bulkier Terminator — the Porsche to Arnie’s Panzer, in the words of James Cameron. The “Titanic” director understood better than anyone how the mighty fall.

3. Blockbusters are as American as apple pie.

When “Jurassic Park” opened in France in 1993, Culture Minister Jacques Toubon declared the movie “a threat to French national identity” and said that it was every Frenchman’s “patriotic duty” to see the French period drama “Germinal” instead. The Liberation newspaper called on Prime Minister Édouard Balladur “to confront, with renewed muscle, the yankosaurs who menace our country.”

But a year later, Hollywood’s overseas profits outstripped its domestic ones, a crucial tip of the seesaw that has only grown more acute. These days, a movie like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” makes more than half of its profits overseas. China, the world’s fastest-growing movie market, is expected to eclipse North America in 2020, and Hollywood is shaping and marketing its projects accordingly. You wondered why “Iron Man 3” softened the villainy of the Mandarin, why the Transformers movies featured product placements for Chinese banks and other brands, and why the monsters of “Godzilla” and “Pacific Rim” went on an exclusive, big-city tour of the Pacific? Nine new cinemas open in China every day.

4. Blockbusters are for boys.

Let’s get the nomenclature right: “fanboys.” The merchandise-collecting, DVD-alphabetizing sci-fi nerds, pale of skin and damp of handshake, who are rumored to emerge from their Game Boy-filled man-caves long enough to make the new Marvel movie No. 1 before beating a hasty retreat. It’s true that since “Star Wars,” the studios have zeroed in on teenage boys as the only market obsessive enough for the repeat viewings that keep their blockbusters afloat. “I make movies for teenage boys,” Michael Bay has said. “Oh dear, what a crime.”

But that was before “Twilight,” whose effects were felt at Comic-Con in 2008. Thousands of young, female “Twilight” fans invaded, causing some boys to break out in a cold sweat and walk the convention floor with signs and T-shirts reading “Twilight Ruined Comic-Con!” like hard-line communists confronting the prospect of power-sharing in post-1989 Romania. The myth that only boys can make a movie a blockbuster is shattered fairly regularly these days, with this year boasting “Fifty Shades of Grey”; Disney’s live-action “Cinderella”; the Charlize Theron-dominated and surprisingly feminist “Mad Max: Fury Road”; “Insurgent,” the second installment in the Divergent franchise starring Shailene Woodley; Pixar’s “Inside Out,” about the mind of a 12-year-old girl; and the final installment of the “Hunger Games” franchise, which has already put star Jennifer Lawrence in the billion-dollar boys’ club.

5. Blockbusters are just mindless fun.

“Opening with lots of zeroes / All we get are superheroes,” Jack Black sang at last year’s Oscars, where a film critiquing comic-book movies as “cultural genocide,” “Birdman,” reigned supreme. The academy’s prejudice against big moneymakers is deep-rooted. When the 1976 Oscar nominations for best director were announced and he found his place taken by Federico Fellini, Spielberg said: “This is called commercial backlash. . . . Everybody loves a winner, but nobody loves a winner.” Similarly, “Gandhi” beat Spielberg’s “E.T.” in 1983 — although when was the last time you watched “Gandhi”?

The Oscars may regularly mistake themselves for the Nobel Peace Prize and disdain blockbusters as appealing to the lowest common denominator, but there’s nothing low about what we have in common: Today’s mindless fun has an uncanny habit of turning into tomorrow’s much-loved classics. “Inception” was as ingenious a piece of watchmaker cinema as has been committed to celluloid; there’s as much pure kinetic moviemaking in “Mad Max” as in any film released this year; Pixar makes films with as much art, craft, heart and soul as any best picture winner. Let the academy chase the coattails of prestige. This summer, I’m going to the movies.

Tom Shone is the author of “Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer” and the forthcoming “Woody Allen: A Retrospective.”